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Gender Reveal (cake) Externalities

Warning: This post is a little sad, but then I have a couple of comical stories at the end.

Gender reveal parties. They sound innocent. Have a cake, slice into it, if the cake is pink, you’re having a girl! If it’s blue, a boy! Or maybe you have a balloon filled with confetti, if the confetti is pink... you got the picture.

Over the last 5 to 10 years these parties have gotten increasingly more popular. And people have gotten more innovative about how to “reveal” to themselves and their family/friends what gender baby they are having.

I’m sure you’ve seen a YouTube video, or 10, of an especially creative one. Unfortunately, as people have attempted to get more and more unique, things have taken a turn for the worse.

Just last week, a firefighter died after some pirotechnics that were supposed to shoot out the appropriate gender color sparked a fire in Southern California. Super sad. (NYTimes article)

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first fire that’s been started, another one occurred in Arizona a couple years ago — again from a gender reveal. (NYTimes article)

The worst story involved the accidental building of a pipe bomb. It ended very tragically.

What does this have to do with economics? Externalities. As I’ve written about before, externalities occur when the actions of a party (consumer or producer) affect someone else (a bystander) who was not involved at all.

Let’s take the fire in California last week. The tragedy was unexpected for everyone, but the key aspect for it to be an externality is the ripple effect it had on others. The fire affected not just those who were participating in the gender reveal event, but also: the surrounding area which experienced the fire, the firefighter, and his family.

What should be done to correct this negative externality? Higher penalties for starting fires might be one way to go — these people will likely be charged with a crime, for example. Either a fine, jail, or both.

That’s something that the government can do.

It also seems that people are initiating campaigns to stop gender reveal parties. The movement has more to do with gender issues, but fewer accidents accidents and fires might be an added benefit. As public perception changes about having these parties, we all would be better off.

Gender Reveal Cakes

I’ve made two gender reveal cakes. Both had comical - although, fortunately not tragic - stories.

First, I recommend using a white cake as your base. This is my go to white cake and it’s never steered me wrong.

For one gender reveal, I made the mistake of using this Smitten Kitchen yellow cake recipe. I confirmed with the expected mother that she wanted pink for a girl and blue for a boy. She joked “I mean if you do green, I’d be confused!” I had this beautiful image in my head of doing a mosaic cake with different color light blues.

But, I started with a yellow cake. If you think back to when you learned colors, you’ll remember that blue and yellow make... green. Oh no! The cake was turning green! I had to keep adding more and more blue! Ultimately I got a blue - green mosaic cake, which according to my friend - "looked really cool" and there was no confusion about the gender... phew. This cake was special to me because they were simultaneously revealing the gender, as well as telling her mom that she was pregnant. Lots of excitement!

The other gender reveal cake had more of a surprise twist. My colleague was having a promotion party. The dessert for the party was going to be a cake (by me) which would reveal the gender of their new baby. My friend gave me the ultrasound picture from the doctor in a sealed envelope. I opened it up. The doctor had written not once, but twice, “it’s a girl!” However, it also had an arrow pointing at something in the ultrasound. I was confused. Why would there be an arrow pointing at this little thing in the ultrasound if it was a girl?! But I couldn’t ask my friend. So I went ahead planning for a pink cake. The doctor said it was a girl. Who was I to question the doctor?

I was in Connecticut for a tennis tournament the day of the party. I checked my phone a few times to see how the reveal went but didn’t hear anything.

Then... I got this text. With no explanation:

What?! Turns out the doctor HAD been wrong. The mom had gone to get some bloodwork done and they had also written the gender down - on a post-it. After the party, they opened the envelope....

Now their boy is almost 2 years old.


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